About The Experiment

I run an automated program (or a “bot”) that sends you lots of little packages, bought from Amazon, AliExpress, Etsy and other sites across the internet with free shipping. You give the bot some funds, a shipping address and how many packages you want ordered. The bot does the rest!

Quite a few subscribers have actually posted unboxing videos on YouTube, so you can see what the bot has been buying. Just click on ‘Watch These Videos’ in the menu at the top of this page. Some of the videos are pretty hilarious.

You can give the bot instructions as to what sort of packages you want, for example to only buy beads or postcards or anime items, or you can have it buy completely random packages and let the bot surprise you.

Once you sign up, you will receive login details for a secure page where you can manage your account. In addition to seeing what packages are on their way, you can provide feedback for items that have arrived.

The bot uses these data to pick better packages, and avoid buying bad ones. It has a big database of feedback on tens of thousands of packages it has ordered. The bot is more likely to buy products that receive good feedback and doesn’t re-buy items when the data show it is boring or uninteresting.

So if you sign up with a particular keyword, like ‘crafts’ or ‘legos’, the bot can look back at items it has shipped before with the same keyword and systematically find the best surprises. Of course, the bot does not buy great items all the time. Over time it learns and improves as it collects more data.

This project was inspired by XKCD, however it not affiliated with the web comic or Randall Munroe. Please don’t sue me!

How do I cancel?
Send an email to cancel@bobcatinabox.com in order to cancel.

Do you purchase items that are $1 or less only?
No, the bot does not only purchase items that are $1 or less only. The bot buys packages within each subscriptions’ settings (for example, $30/month and 4-8 packages per month) that match the accounts keywords.

How long will it take for the first packages to arrive?
Every package purchased by the bot has free shipping, and free shipping is rarely overnight or priority. Additionally, as most of the items are shipped from Asia they must go through customs. Shipping time varies, but expect the first package to arrive within four to eight weeks of signing up for the bot.

Do I *have* to set keywords to get packages, or does a lack of keywords just make the packages totally random? 
You don’t need to set keywords to get packages. However the bot will wait a bit for you to set keywords before buying anything, so not setting keywords will delay the first packages by 1-2 weeks.

If you select ‘random’ as a keyword you should get totally random packages a bit faster.
When do changes to budget and number of items go into effect?
Increases in your total budget go into effect immediately, but you are only ever charged once per month. A pro-rated amount is added to the next billing cycle after you made the change. Decreases in your total budget go into effect at the next renewal date. The idea here is that someone adding addresses or budget likely doesn’t want to wait to get packages. Usually decreases are cancellations, and in those cases the bot needs to spend the rest of the funds.
Keyword changes get implemented once or twice per week, but obviously there is a delay caused by shipping. Packages you get today will probably be based on last month’s keywords.
When you set the number of packages on the site you are actually setting the bot’s “package preference” for the address, which is a number from 1 to 10. That number tells the bot how long it should wait before ordering another package. You might take a look at the below charts. For example, if you have the slider set dead in the middle and your budget is $30/month the bot will generate a new order every 2.2 days. The slider on the site will read 9-18 packages per month and the bot will aim for 13.9 packages per month. Changing the number of items increases or decreases the time between new orders.
In generating packages the bot only looks at budget changes that have gone into effect. For example, if you set your budget to $0 for all addresses the bot will stop charging you but will keep generating packages until the funds run out.

Do you purchase items up to what the person subscribed divided by the number of packages per month (ie, if you spend $30 and ask for 15 packages the bot spends $2 each), with the new month’s subscription doing the same?
Yes, the bot spends the funds you give it and buys the number of packages you tell it to. So at $30/month and 15 packages per month the bot will spend an average of $2 per package. If the bot spends less than $2 on a package, it will roll over the remainder to the next package it buys.On the ‘Incoming’ tab of the site, does each row indicate a new package ordered or do the icons?
Each line is one package. The pictures are for keywords that are the packages are tagged with.

Are additional keywords OR or AND?
With keywords the bot uses an OR operator not an AND. If you submit a comma separated list of keywords (for example: red, gadget, craft, star wars) the bot will search for each keyword separately. That is, a selected package will only need to match one of the keywords not all of the keywords (red OR gadget OR craft OR star wars). The more keywords the better.

What kind of items does the bot buy?
There is a wide and expanding universe of odds and ends that are offered online for under a dollar, with free shipping. From North America, there are many merchants selling old postcards, stationary, fun memo pads, baseball cards, ties, books and memorabilia. From Asia, there are craft items, manga, anime, beads, industrial parts, stickers, jewelry, cellphone accessories and pretty much everything else you can imagine (plus lots you cannot). From Europe there are rings, bracelets, charms and bits of ribbon. It is hard to generalize, as the items are quite different and there is huge variety. Check out the stats and video pages for more information on the items bought by the bot.

Can I sign up if I am outside the US?
Yes, the bot can ship to nearly every country on the planet. It is not limited to the US and there are many subscribers in Europe, South America, Asia and Australia. Some items of course will not ship outside North America. But the bot will only buy items that can be shipped to you, so you will get just as many packages as American subscribers.

If I make a video with the items that the bot ships me… will you promote it?
Yes! This is a creative experiment and it is always interesting to see what the bot sends and what people use them for. If you have made a video with some of the items just send me an email (alexander@bobcatinabox.com) and I’ll include it on our video section. If you have any other creative uses for the items or include them in a project… I would love to hear about them and happily share your exploits on this website.

How do the merchants make money on low cost items with free shipping?
The short answer is that I don’t know. For many of the items, merchants are certainly selling at a loss. But there are lots of sellers, on eBay and other online platforms, who keep offering items for next to nothing with free shipping….so the bot will keep buying them! As most of the items are shipped from Asia, many of the merchants pay several dollars for “free shipping”. A good number of the items bought by the bot will have “Shipping: $5” or something similar printed on the custom form! Even though the cost to ship is several times the winning bid, merchants fulfill the order and ship the items the bot buys. Perhaps they have a discounted shipping deal that makes it worthwhile. It is something of a mystery as to why they offer the items for such low prices on eBay, as it is easy to set a reserve price or start the auction at a higher bid. Perhaps the merchants ship these small items to boost their feedback scores or hope that they will be bundled with other purchases.

For more information, head over here or here (thanks to subscriber Mitchell B. for the finding the links).

How does the bot make money?
The bot is able to make money, even with payment processing costs and overhead. This is because for some reason there are packages available with free shipping that you can order for practically nothing online.

What does not go towards packages pay to feed the team running the bot and growing the project.

Can you open source the bot?
I would love to make the bot open source. However as Bobcat In A Box is very much in the tradition of Mechanical Turk, that would simply be impossible.